Everything you heard about Maldives is true. The crystal clear waters, women in bikinis, freshly cooked food and summer vibes almost all year round.
I was one of lucky ones to get out of the Philippines to travel to Maldives by last May 28. Here's why and how I went there during the pandemic.
Keep in mind that this is an account of my trip during the lockdown period in Male and while Maafushi was under monitoring according to the Ministry of Tourism.
What does it mean when an island is 'under monitoring'?
The government keeps track of all transfers from one island to another.
At this time, a 'split-stay' is not allowed. You can't move from a hotel on Maafushi island then move to Baros. Tourists should go back to Male airport first, then take a speedboat going to their next destination.
This is how the hotels monitor the movement of tourists. The list of islands under monitoring is updated here.
Male is the capital city of Maldives.
I arrived in Male on May 29, 2021, Saturday. Upon arrival at the hotel, I found out that the entire city was on lockdown. I could only walk to nearby places, like the grocery stores and currency exchange shop.
I wasn't prepared! The hotel never gave prior notice via email. It was nice to have a few days to myself.
We stayed in Samann Grand, a boutique hotel 15 minutes away from the airport. The airport transfer is free. I met a hotel staff at the airport and off we went by van.
This hotel is close to a mosque, and we heard their daily prayers. The first time I heard it at 4AM, jetlagged, for a few seconds I wasn't sure where I was and wondered if I was dreaming. The sound of the prayers was lovely.
Most restaurants were open for delivery and takeaway.
How To Get There
I used Singapore Airlines for my flights from Manila to Male, and Male to Clark. In this post, I mentioned why I decided not to return to Manila and go to a smaller international airport hours away from my country's capital.
I have to say choosing SG Air was one of the best decisions for this trip.
The airline has 1-2 flights per week to Maldives. There are almost no flight cancellations. The plane wasn't full and I had the whole row to myself.
I've been quite active in a few Facebook groups related to travel and I've read no complaints. There is a lot about Qatar Airways. Flights going to Maldives and back to Manila get cancelled 2-3 times. Beware!
Although plane tickets are more expensive these days, I got a good deal.
My request for ovo-vegetarian meals was granted.
When booking flights, I highly recommend Google Flights. Book your ticket through the airline's website directly. Avoid using third party agencies like Cheapoair. You'll have a hard time with refunds if you encounter any issues later.
Changi Airport is clean, spacious and organized. The ground staff escort every group that comes and goes to the airport.
All shops are closed. There's no chance to go around for the sake of looking around. Restaurants are available for online orders only.
The only minor issue I came across the 12-hour layover coming back to the Philippines. I know someone who had a 36-hour layover.
Good news: They are transit hotels inside Changi. They're quite pricey at $200+ for 6 hours. You can stay longer and there are rooms for single travelers and groups.
Unfortunately, they didn't have a room for me to stay while I was there. Fortunately, they had a spacious lounge where passengers can charge their phones and laptops and the Wi-Fi worked very well.
What To Eat
I'm a big fan of Indian food so I enjoyed eating curry, bread and something a little spicy every day.
These are some restaurants we tried:
I'd like to highlight Crystal Sands. Most of the staff there are Pinoys, so if you get the chance to visit, say hello to our hardworking kababayans! They serve delicious food at good prices. I highly recommend this place.
Alcohol and Cigarettes
As a Muslim country, they are strict with the distribution of alcohol. In fact, you won't find it on the island itself. You need to take a speedboat to get to a Floating Bar to drink ridiculously priced alcohol. Crystal Sands staff can help!
A bottle of Jack Daniels cost $140. A can of Tiger beer is $12.
It's quite an experience to take a speedboat in the evening to drink on top of a swaying ship. They even set up disco lights to make it look like an actual bar.
Smoking is allowed outdoors. Our tour guide, also a free diver, said 80% of men in Maldives are smokers.
If you intend to stay dry, you can get their non-alcoholic beverages in stores.
Where To Stay
Where to stay in Maldives greatly depends on two things: your budget and the experience you want to have.
If you have the means and prefer an undisturbed stay, go to a private island/resort.
If you want a more down-to-earth, local, beach vibe where you can interact with others, go to a local island.
It was an advantage that Maafushi island was 'under monitoring' and not too many tourists were present.
Women can wear bikinis only at Bikini Beach. Outside of it, women need to wear clothes that don't show their shoulders, back, and legs.
How To Get Around
From the airport to any hotel within Male or Hulhumale, you can take a private van or a cab.
From Male to any island, you can take a speedboat, a private boat or a seaplane. I read that hiring a private speedboat can cost up to $100 per person per trip - I'm not sure if this is accurate.
The public ferry is not available at the time of the pandemic.
Maafushi is a small island (as most of the islands are) and you can walk around it by foot. You'll find that the small buildings and bungalows are hotels, inns or homestays.
Things To Do
Though the physical features are alike, the people in Maldives are not all locals. There are Bangladeshis and Pakistanis who moved there for work. We also met Filipinos in the service, wellness and medical industries.
We received excellent customer service from the staff of every establishment we went to.
Mehedi, one of the waiters in Kaani, even left us a bracelet each before we left. He's so sweet!
Riyadh, a Bangladeshi who led us to the Floating Bar, went the extra mile to prepare a birthday party for my partner. He did this with the fellow Filipinos who work as nurses from Saudi Arabia - Jerlo, Kristy, and Christy Mae.
They all made his birthday extra special we couldn't thank them enough for what they did.
Hotels, restaurants and shops accept US currency. I recommend you also carry Maldives Rufiyaa for smaller purchases.
One of the waiters in Kaani tipped you can save money using local currency when getting groceries. If you buy 1 water bottle using USD, you can get 2 water bottles using Rufiyaa. So if you buy snacks, souvenirs and smaller purchases, use Rufiyaa.
All services there include 10% service charge. Tours and hotels charge additional environmental/green fee of 5-10% on top of the service charge.
That One Weird Experience
I went to a small grocery store in Male to get snacks and water. It was my first time to get out of the hotel and haven't bought any local money yet. So I paid the grocery man in US dollars. He offered that I can buy Rufiyaa from him and so I did. Big mistake.
He gave me a ripped 100MVR bill. I called it out right away, and he replied, 'It's okay'. I let it go. I was afraid to make a scene because I was by myself, a foreigner and not up to go against 2 men.
I've traveled alone abroad several times and I've learned that it's wiser to step away from situations where I could end up being a victim. I'd rather lose money than my sense of safety.
I left and used that bill to pay for my early dinner at Cloud Nine. The staff did not accept it.
My partner accompanied me to the store the next time, and he helped me out. He used the ripped bill to pay for our groceries and maybe, because he's male, the guy at the counter accepted it.
LESSON: BUY LOCAL MONEY AT LEGIT MONEY EXCHANGE SHOPS.
Maldives In A Nutshell
The place is absolutely stunning. You will never run out of things to do.
Whether you are into lounging by the beach or keeping active with watersports, eating mild to spicy Indian food or freshly caught seafood, spending a romantic holiday - you can do it here!
All of our transactions from the airport to the hotels and restaurants went smoothly.
It's child-friendly. You don't see drunk people on the streets. It's safe to walk around. It's a great place for couples looking to spend quality time with each other.